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Oculus dethroned: Valve's SteamVR is the new virtual reality frontrunner

Hayden Dingman | March 6, 2015
There's a new frontrunner in virtual reality. At least for now. For the first time since virtual reality became "a thing" again, Oculus has been dethroned. SteamVR and the HTC Vive now reign supreme as the device I'm most looking forward to, following a demo during GDC.

I spent most of the demo trying to juggle kitchen knives. Even more surprising? It worked. I could judge depth well enough to "snatch" the knives out of mid-air, although there did sometimes seem to be a bit of delay between hitting the trigger and the game recognizing the input. Whether that was hardware or software related, I don't know.

Cloudhead Games showed a demo of The Gallery, a game set in a fantasy/steampunk type world. Again, there were plenty of objects to pick up and play with. The coolest takeaway from this? A candle that I picked up and carried around to see how it would affect the scene's lighting. Oh, and a pair of green-tinted glasses I held up in front of my eyes to see what would happen. Predictably, my view turned green.

Tilt Brush, by Skillman and Hackett, was actually my favorite demo — and it wasn't even a "game" necessarily. It's painting. In space. You remember that pen that was actually a mini-3D printer of sorts? It's like that. Your left hand controls brush type and color, your right hand is the brush. I wrote "Wow" on the wall in fire. I wrote my name in blue leaves. I put stars in the sky. I danced around and made crazy spirals that wrapped around my body.

It was the most magical VR experience I've ever had. Forget all the rest — I could've spent the entire day in Tilt Brush and not been bored. Imagine drawing whole diorama scenes around you, or collaborating with friends on a massive art project.

Valve, of course, saved the biggest surprise for last — a demo set in Portal's Aperture Laboratories, in the "Robot Repair Human Diversity Outreach Program." This was the most technically impressive demo, given the fact that Valve's assets were top-notch. One of the two robots from Portal 2's co-op mode (the short, fat one) is broken and you need to repair him.

There were, again, various items to interact with — drawers full of moldy cake, doors to pull, et cetera. At one point you pull the robot's face open and see all its internal components stretched out in front of you.

It was convincing — not least because it hints at the possibility for VR storytelling from a big-budget developer.

Further down the road

Now, there are still questions. For one, price. Like I said earlier this week, a VR headset, two controllers, and two base stations does not sound cheap, to say nothing of the hardware required to pump out these experiences at 90 frames per second to two screens. This is almost certainly not going to be a widespread technology at launch, if I had to guess.

 

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